Unfortunately for everyone, as the rain came to an end in mid-March, a different sort of storm was brewing. I have to say, we treat our social media and our blog as a bit of a respite from the ”C” word, but the fact of the matter is, COVID had changed all of our lives in a matter of weeks.
So with everyone’s plans halted and changed so suddenly, all across the globe, how was life here at Jameswood?
Cal and I couldn’t have found ourselves in a more privileged position when Covid arrived in the UK. We are living rent-free in a caravan that sits on our own land. Although there was no longer an income coming in from bartending, our fixed living costs were low. Neither of us were high-risk, and though we had family members who were, all our close family and friends have been able to stay at home for the duration of the lockdown. To top it all off, we have a beautiful set of hills to access straight from our backyard, which gives us an incredible escape during our government sanctioned exercise.
I want to preface this post by saying that Cal and I are deeply grateful for all the frontline workers who have been keeping us safe during the pandemic. Thank you.
Of course, with the shutting of major retailers, including our chosen building supplier, getting materials for the project was going to be a challenge. As rumours spread about impending restrictions, and when France declared their country was locking down, Cal and I sprung to action. We wouldn’t be able to make the large timber order needed to frame our house, but while others were stockpiling toilet paper, we were filling the van with as many building supplies as it could safely handle. The plan was to keep building during lockdown – what else would there be to do?
Fortunately, we had incredible friends to keep us company and help us with the house during our lockdown. Kate and Jake had arrived to surprise Cal for his birthday just a day before a UK-wide lockdown was announced. They had lost their job in Switzerland due to the pandemic and were now living in their beautifully converted van. They decided it was best to stay put and became a part of our household for the duration of the shutdown.
When Kate first saw the back of Jameswood, she described it as dingy and dank. She wasn’t wrong. The patchwork cement that had been applied to the building over the years was dark and dirty. What’s worse is cement could actually do damage to our traditionally built lime-based building! Historic Environment Scotland advises not to use cement on lime-mortar buildings because it can trap moisture in the walls and speed up deterioration. It can also contribute to damp in your living space, which can be unhealthy, and cause your house to heat inefficiently. For these reasons, we had planned to chip off all the old cement, and replace it with lime.
The week that Scotland locked down, we were finally blessed with beautiful, sunny weather. Dry weather is PERFECT for repointing a building! We couldn’t have asked for better timing. With plenty of sand and lime, sunny days, and a global pandemic in full swing, there wasn’t much else to do but start chipping!
We would take it in turns chipping away at the tough cement that covered Jameswood’s walls. Underneath this envelope, a beautiful array of stonework was emerging.
Following behind the loud chipper, someone else would patiently carry out the task of repointing Jameswood.
While lockdown didn’t effect progress on our restoration, it was presenting us with an unexpected challenge…
The pool had shut.
We had an old tub in the yard, and a wood burner with a built-in water tank, which a friend had given us when we first moved to Jameswood. Cal and Jake found some old copper pipe that had been harvested from our derelict home, and with some resourcefulness and clever tinkering, the two engineered us a beautiful wood-fired bathtub in just a few days!
My first go in the bathtub must have been the best bath I’ve ever taken. The luxurious Victorian roll-top was filled to chin-level, and instead of cooling down like a regular tub, the fire would keep the water toasty. Even when the electric shower arrived, we continued to treat ourselves to a bath every so often.
I love sitting in the water on a calm evening, listening to the birds go to bed, and watching the bats come out as the sky turns a burning orange. We have decided our tub is now a permanent fixture at Jameswood, and looking back, it probably wouldn’t have come to fruition if it wasn’t for our sudden lockdown, and a kind looking man selling us a broken electric shower in a parking lot.
Another slightly less pressing concern of ours was the absence of flour and yeast from any grocery shelves in Dunoon. Last summer, a Workawayer had built us a beautiful wood-fired pizza oven, which was made out of reclaimed bricks from the house. Cal LOVES pizza, and had grown accustomed to weekly home-made pizza nights. He was devastated that he couldn’t share this tradition with his best friend Jake.
So, the shutdown really wasn’t all that bad for us. Since we work from home…on our home, government sanctioned lockdowns kept us busy on our restoration. We cherished the time we got to spend with Kate and Jake, who would otherwise have been off on their own adventures in Switzerland and beyond. We were blessed with beautiful, summery weather, and we had breathtaking remote places to explore when we went out for our daily exercise.
I wanted to thank everyone who has thought of us during these difficult times. Cal and I sincerely hope everyone is staying safe and healthy at home, and again, want to thank all the front line workers who are helping us get through this pandemic.
Thanks again for joining us, as we take on the restoration of Jameswood Villa.
Xx Claire (and Cal)
We wanted to dedicate a blog post to sincerely thanking all of our GoFundMe donors for their support.
Every single donation, no matter how big or small, is deeply appreciated by Cal and I.
We are humbled to know that people from all over the world have helped us get a little bit closer to our dream of restoring Jameswood Villa.
In supporting us, each and every donor has become an important part of the history of Jameswood.
Throughout the restoration, we have found names and dates of the people who once built Jameswood, back in the 1890’s, hidden away on various timbers in our home. Now, we will be including the names of all the donors who helped us save Jameswood. Hopefully, one day, a very (very very very) long time from now, someone finds all your names. I hope they are blown away by the love and kindness that has been shown to us and to Jameswood.
It's not too late to get your name permanently marked into the fabric of Jameswood! Our GoFundMe page is still available at
Claire and Cal
Before we begin this post, I wanted to let you all know that we are now on Youtube!
We filmed a house tour back in 2018 when we first bought the house! Now we have posted it so that we can all look back on how far we've come!
I'll be posting an updated house tour in the weeks to come (I promise, our camera work has come a lnog way!) But for now, you can check the video out and subscribe by clicking HERE!
When we first got to Jameswood, the house was an absolute disaster. With so much seemingly wrong with the building, it was hard to know where to start. We quickly decided a structural engineer's survey of the house would be needed - in order to find out exactly what was wrong with the building, and how to fix it! Commissioning this report was one of the best starting points we had for tackling our renovation.
For self builders who are interested: Ours cost about 500 pounds and was really worth every penny. If you are ever taking on a restoration or investing in property of any kind, I would highly recommend getting a structural survey done to the house!
When our report came back to us, it obviously didn't say that Jameswood had a clean bill of health. The structural engineer had even gone as far as to say that it would be easier to knock her down and start over.
Thankfully, however, our structural report did find one thing that wasn't wrong with our home: her main foundations. Our engineer told us that the main foundations were sturdy, and built onto solid, unmoving ground, (With no evidence of any rivers running underneath it…!)
But, unfortunately, this could only be said for our main foundations. Our engineer was worried about our sleeper walls.
Sleeper walls are a set of foundations that run parallel to each other, from gable-end to gable-end, every few meters below a building. They are separate from the outer foundations, which uphold the solid stone walls of a home.
The sleeper walls hold up the ground floor joists in a suspended floor system. In the Victorian era, it was not uncommon for the sleeper walls to consist of a few feet of stone wall sat on top of the surface soil. This was unlike the deeper outer wall foundations, which would be dug into the ground and sat on a firmer layer of ground far below the surface soil.
At Jameswood, the surface soil our sleeper walls sat on is particularly…squidgy… for lack of a better word! Over time, the weight of the ground floor compacted the muddy surface soil beneath the sleeper walls, and the floor slowly started to sink.
As it turns out, this problem was one of the reasons for the partial collapse of the bay window! As the roof was left unrepaired, and timber started to rot, the trusses were bending under their own weight. This problem was compacted by the sinking floor, which meant the roof was no longer receiving any structural support from the walls below! The roof eventually bent out of place, and pushed out stones in the bay window!
Before we could add any new timber framing into the building, we would need to replace the shallow sleeper walls with deep concrete foundations.
A digger would usually excavate trench foundations, but there was no way we were getting one in through the doorways, and we wouldn’t want heavy machinery disturbing the outer foundations. We had no choice but to hand-dig our new foundations.
Unlike many parts of our project, we didn't have anyone to help us with this task. It was the winter months, and it was far too cold to host friends and family.
From test holes, we knew that the firm till we would be setting our foundations onto was about one meter below the grounds surface.
Wheel-barrow by wheel-barrow, we set out to dig long, deep trenches inside our home.
Cal and I took turns digging and wheel-barrowing mud out of the building.
Admittedly, Cal would take on the digging job as the trench went deeper, and allow me the more satisfying task of digging the first few feet of trench, where the mud was drier and you were stood at wheel-barrow height while working.
The work kept us warm, and we certainly grew stronger as the weeks progressed. Finally, we managed to dig all the trenches out.
Filling them back in with concrete was an equally difficult task, but when we had poured all of our foundations and stepped on solid concrete for the first time, a relief washed over us.
For most moments in our project, I can look back at times with fondness. Even if the going got a bit tough, we managed to have fun while doing it.
But that just isn’t the take-away message for this piece of the project... I never want to dig another trench again in my life!
Looking back on this time in our project, I am amazed that we had the strength to push through and I am so proud of us for persevering. But I am even more happy that it's all over!
Now, with solid foundations that will stand the test of time, we are off the ground, and can truly start rebuilding home.
Thank you for following our journey, as we restore Jameswood Villa.
In our last progress report, Cal and I had managed to put on a roof all by ourselves! (Well… with a lot of help from our ragtag roofing team!)
It’s been a long time since our last report, and a LOT has happened since then! Our silence has not occurred because the project has come to a halt, but rather because we’ve been so busy building, it’s been hard to take a moment for blog writing!
In the winter of 2019, Cal and I had one of our most challenging tasks to carry out yet. Designing the rest of our restoration and applying for a building control warrant!
We wanted to take the design phase of this restoration seriously and we had a few goals in mind for our build!
We wanted to
As the sun started to set earlier, we spent long evenings in the caravan, reading textbooks and PDF’s cover to cover, and debating (sometimes heatedly) over how we were going to rebuild our floors and walls, insulate, ventilate and more! As we read, we realised there was a lot more to consider when designing a restoration than we had originally thought!
If we have some interest, I would be happy to write a more in depth blog post about the material and building approaches we chose to use for our restoration! We came across some excellent resources while researching for this project.
You can find a list of resources that we found helpful for our restoration by CLICKING HERE!
Once we had a plan, it was time to apply to building control.
In the UK, major alterations that are made on a home will have to be approved and overseen by building control. Similar regulatory bodies will exist in most other countries, and their job is to make sure that all work done to a building is carried out to a safe and efficient standard.
Usually, an architect or contractor would apply for building warrants on behalf of their client. I’ve found out that even self builders will usually hire a professional for help with the design phase of a project and building control applications.
Cal and I, however, don’t have the budget for an architect or contractor, and like most things, we set out to complete this task, rather naively thinking, “How hard could it really be?”
Cal tends to have very little patience for bureaucracy, and when he has to partake in paperwork of any kind, he has been known to voice his frustrations rather loudly to anyone in the vicinity. To make matters worse, Cal tends to have contempt towards authority. He knows right from wrong, but doesn’t like being told what to do. With so many injustices in todays world, I think it’s a good thing to beat to your own drum. But I am absolutely sure it will make our building control application a hundred times more difficult.
For these reasons, I took responsibility of the building control application, and plan on being the point of contact for all communications with building control officers.
The procedure for writing, drawing and submitting a building control application is very vaguely outlined online. I assume this is because the process is usually undertaken by professionals who have completed countless applications. From what I could gather, the more information, the better.
I read each part of the UK building standards that was related to our project. I included nearly word for word, every detail from the code that pertained to our project. I felt as though I was plagiarising the UK building code. Thankfully, our building control officer knew we weren’t professionals, and he didn’t expect computer-derived drawings from us. Two and a half weeks later, I had sixteen pages of information on how we would build our house, and a stack of drawings that showed elevations, sections, floor, electrical and plumbing plans for Jameswood.
I was sure there was far too much information included in the document, and I was later amused when our officer asked us to add three minor notes to the application in order to approve the warrant.
We managed to submit our application at one of the busiest times for the building control office. And to make matters worse, I’m sure my application was not in a conventional format, making it more difficult to read through and assess. But fair warning to those of you who are about to go through the process: get your application in with plenty of time before your planned start date.
It took eight weeks to get an initial response from building control (not an acceptance, just a response.)
How we saved a thousand pounds on our project!
Overall, the feedback was good. I must have submitted enough information, because I only had a few minor notes to add into the application. The adjustments took less than an hour to include. But there was one problem. We were told that even if we follow building code, all structural alterations made to buildings in Scotland required certification by a structural engineer.
When I read this line in the email, my stomach sank as I imagined the horrendous bill we would receive for commissioning a structural engineer. I started contacting engineer firms and after the first day of calls and emails, my worst fears had been confirmed.
Most structural engineers said they would only work on projects lead by an architect. Those that would work with us were quoting over 2000 pounds for their service.
At the time, it felt as though we were being penalised for making improvements to our building. All the changes we wanted to make were there to improve the structural integrity, fire and water resistance of our home. If we had just built a like-for-like structural that had the same problems as before, we wouldn’t be charged two grand for a structural engineer to tick off the project!
I really do understand that this requirement has been put into place to make sure structures are safely built, and I know the importance of these safeguards. But at the time, while receiving shocking quotes that would eat into savings we had set aside for windows, it didn’t feel very “fair”.
After calling what felt like every structural engineer in Glasgow and Edinburgh, we finally found a really understanding guy who liked our project. He had a similar original quote to the rest we had received, but he said he could take close to a grand off the original price if we could produce our own CAD drawings.
I had no idea how to use CAD software, but jumped at the opportunity. How hard could it be?
I decided to try out Skillshare, a subscription-based online learning platform. I found an autoCAD course that was specific to architecture, and over the next five days I managed to learn how to use the software and produce floorplans, new elevations and section drawings of the house!
It was so nice to see Jameswood come to life on my computer screen, and five days of learning and useful new skill had also saved our project 1000 pounds! We were thrilled!
Having genuinely been blown away by how helpful Skillshare was for our project, we’ve partnered up with the website to offer our readers a free trial! And as a bonus, if you enjoy the website as much as we do, signing up will directly support our restoration – so learning new skills for yourself will help us on our journey as we learn how to restore Jameswood!
You can sign up for your free-trial by clicking the link:
Thanks to the kindess and patience of a structural engineer that believed in our project, as well as the power of an incredible online learning community, Jameswood is one step closer to being structurally sound and stronger than ever.
Having submitted an amended application that now included a structural engineer’s certification, we heard back from our officer in less than a week. I jumped for joy when I received the email that said our application had been accepted.
It was a very drawn out and stressful process, but I’m glad Cal and I designed our restoration together, and lead the building control application process ourselves. Though I know I’m still far from being an expert, this process gave me a crash course in restoration design, and how to navigate the bureaucracy involved in a renovation. The process was frustrating, but it was also empowering. I’ve learnt how to design an efficient building, while taking into account the needs of a traditionally built home, I’ve learnt how to make and submit a building control application and how to produce architectural CAD drawings.
Admittedly, we’ve only just begun our journey through navigating building control. With our application accepted, we’ll now have a number of inspections throughout the restoration to make sure we are building everything to code. But we feel like the hard part, the paperwork, is over. Now we just have to follow our designs, and do things right, just like we had always planned.
Thank you again for following our journey,
As we take on the restoration of Jameswood Villa.
As most of you will know, Cal accidentally bought our house at auction.
If you haven’t heard this story, and are wondering HOW you accidentally buy a house at auction, you can read about the mishap by clicking HERE.
Admittedly, we are about the two least qualified people to solicit advise about buying property at auction. But, as first-time buyers and bidders, we learnt a lot from the experience, and my hope is that someone else can learn from our mistake!
So we’ll start with some important advice, and then let you know a bit about the process of buying a house at auction!
Firstly, and I can not stress this enough: DO YOUR RESEARCH ON THE PROPERTY YOU WANT TO BUY!
To be fair, Cal and I had done LOTS of research on the apartment we wanted to buy!
- We scoured the internet for information on the property.
- We attempted a site visit (which couldn’t be done because of a closing order on the unit.)
- We used a friends drone to check out the roof and upper floors of the building.
- And we spoke to people in the neighbourhood to find out as much as we could about the property.
From our experience, people love a good gossip, and you can learn some valuable information about a property just by asking around. But take what you have heard with a pinch of salt, because you are bound to come by some nonsense mixed between the useful information.
From speaking to people about Jameswood, we were convinced our building was sinking and needed costly underpinning (which was definitely not true: we had a structural engineer do a full investigation on the foundations, and they were solid!) We heard crazy rumours that a river ran underneath our house (also very much not true,) and even a woman from the council advised us that the gable end of the house could collapse any day now (This was the most confusing information we heard. The gables were over half a meter thick, dead straight and solid. It would take a catastrophic event to move those walls).
But we also learned some very useful information about the place: why and when it was abandoned. The need for a costly roof repair coincided with the American Navel troops leaving Sandbank – essentially halving the population overnight. Joint ownership complicated the matters, as one tenant had left for America, one had recently passed away, and another was elderly and chose to move in with family. The only tenants left in the building were a young couple who couldn’t afford to cover the cost of expensive common repairs that should have been a shared responsibility between all owners. The couple put a bathtub in the middle of the upstairs living room to catch leaks, but eventually gave in and abandoned the building.
From this information, we decided to look back at the sales history of the property. The units had never been sold at the same time, making joint ownership difficulties the main culprit for the property being left undeveloped.
My second piece of advice is implied by, and just as important as the first: DO NOT BLIND BID AT AN AUCTION!
You will be tempted to blind bid. Especially if the property you were hoping for is snatched up by someone else. But beware: auctioneers use VERY sneaky marketing tactics.
Take Jameswood for example. The photo of Jameswood that the auction house used was taken in 2010 – eight years before the auction. It was conveniently angled to hide the partially collapsed bay window and front wall that would have been an easy red flag to any buyers. The description of Jameswood said the building was perfect for development, needing “upgrades throughout”; which in our opinion, doesn’t accurately describe a building that is in partial collapse, needs seriously structural repairs, and requires a new roof and full gut due to extensive water damage. The council and our structural engineer both told us (repeatedly) to knock the building down and start over; the building was definitely not perfect for development.
If you’re wondering WHY we didn’t just knock the building down and start over, you can click HERE to find out!
We weren’t the only ones who thought Jameswood was improperly marketed! Rumour has it that the previous owners of the building had brought the Auction house to court, accusing them of false advertising. But auction houses are protected by the law and know all the loopholes available for them to legally advertise a property.
These cheap, cunningly marketed buildings become a cash cow for auctioneers. People buy a property on a whim, realise they’ve made a bad purchase, and quickly sell it on at the next auction. Each time this happens, an auction house collects a sellers fee, and a buyers fee, usually upwards of 2000 pounds each; and the cycle continues.
This happened with Jameswood. The property was passed on between buyers like a game of hot potato for at least 10 years. Each time, making the auction house upward of four grand.
At the auction Cal went to, another of the four apartments in the building was sold to a blind bidder from Glasgow. When he first did a site visit, he immediately called us, offering to sell his apartment – eventually giving it to us at a loss.
Once we had purchased the unit off the Glasgow man, we owned three of the four units in Jameswood Villa.
When the last apartment was advertised at the next auction, it was clear the auction house didn’t want us to buy the unit and end the hot potato unless they could swindle us for some extra cash. They offered to sell us the property before the auction at a crazy price, and when we said we would just wait for the auction, they told us there was another interested buyer. We called their bluff, so they lied to us and said the property had been sold – even putting a sold sign on their website so that we wouldn’t turn up for the auction!
We had no idea the property went to auction, but found out a month later that it had been bought by another blind bidder. The cycle continued!
The couple who won the bid only realised how bad the house was when their solicitor stumbled upon our blog! Having seen that we had a plan for the place, and not wanting the auction house to make any more money off their Jameswood scam, they sold their apartment to us at a loss.
I will clarify for Cal’s sake, that he didn’t purposely blind bid at auction. He had genuinely thought he was bidding on a different property. Whether on purpose, or bad luck, two extra apartments at Jameswood had been added to the auction last minute, and had not been included in the printed auction booklets. Having little experience with quick talking auctioneers or a Glaswegian accent, Cal chose to carefully follow the auction book, and had no idea he had bought the wrong house.
Though this should go without saying, my last bit of advice is to be very careful and pay close attention to which plot is being sold at the auction!
We were first time buyers when won the bid for Jameswood Villa. The process for buying a property was completely foreign to us.
The biggest surprise for me was the hidden cost included in buying a property. We expected to pay auction fees, but I naively thought we could transfer our money to the Auction house and be handed over our keys! (I had no idea there wouldn’t be any keys to the house… there weren’t even locking doors left!)
I’m still not exactly sure what they do, why they’re needed, or why they are so expensive, but a solicitor is needed to buy a property. Then, if the price of your property is over a certain threshold, you'll have to pay taxes as well. Luckily, Jameswood’s apartments didn’t meet this threshold!
After one stressful month of compiling paperwork for our solicitor, we received a slightly anticlimactic email from the lawyer to confirm that Jameswood was now ours. We sat in our leaky, rotten house, with a bottle of beer and a deep determination to turn Jameswood into a beautiful home.
All in all, I think the outcome of an auction is what you make of it. On paper, and according to the professionals, Jameswood was a dud. But we think accidentally buying our Victorian Villa was one of the luckiest mistakes we’ve ever made!
Jameswood has given us a goal. It’s given us a challenge that Cal and I can work on and grow from together. We have learned so much about ourselves and each other. It’s been difficult, both emotionally and physically, but it’s made us stronger and we’ve had some of our best memories while restoring this building.
I hope our story has not only taught someone about the dangers of buying a property at auction, but also taught someone about the good that can come from taking a risk and determinedly following your dreams.
Thank you for joining us on our journey as we attempt to restore Jameswood Villa.
If you would like to help us get a little bit closer to reaching our goal, you can visit gofundme.com/f/whathavewedunoon
It’s been a very long while since I last did a progress report, so I thought I’d take some time to catch everyone up on the project!
In our last progress report, we had moved our caravan to the back yard, and started to settle into life on a building site.
We managed to complete some very daunting tasks, including raising our sunken roof, rebuilding a section of partially collapsed sandstone wall, and playing a giant game of Jenga with our house when we decided to replace the cracked red sandstones in our front bay window!
If you missed this update, you can click here to take a look!
With these tasks all complete, we had managed to tackle some of the biggest structural problems with the building, and we were gaining a new-found confidence in our ability to take on this project!
Progress Report #4: June – September, 2019. Reroofing Jameswood.
When Cal first went to visit Jameswood back in October of 2018, we were both very disheartened by the state of the roof. The house had clearly suffered many years of water damage, which had left dangerous holes in the upper floor, wood rot throughout and mould that clung to every surface and left an unpleasant stale scent in the air. The roof was misshapen and as Cal made his way up into the loft space, he was greeted by bright specs of daylight that created a starry night effect on the ceiling. When it rained, the water seemed to come down equally hard inside our house as outside. The house would drip hours after the rain had passed, depositing icy-cold drops down the back of your neck when you least suspected it.
From back in Canada, my father and I tried convincing Cal it wasn’t a big deal. We could learn to roof a building! But Cal was adamant that we didn’t have the skills and know-how to replace a slate roof.
He was right. Slate is notoriously difficult to work with. It’s hard to cut and cracks when you hammer a nail in too tightly, step on it, or drop a tile. We were resigned to the fact that we couldn’t do the roof ourselves, and started calling roofers for a quote.
One roofer spoke to Cal on the phone, and when he realised which building Cal was talking about, he immediately said his company wouldn’t work on it.
Finally, we got a quote from a company. 40 000 just for reslating! That wouldn’t include any of the structural repairs that we would need to do.
We didn’t even have 40 000 pounds! Getting a company to do our roof wasn’t going to be an option.
After lots of research, we found the perfect solution for our project. IKOslate. It’s a long-lasting composite slate that’s made out of 99% recycled materials and is 100% recyclable at the end of its life. It’s eco friendly, in keeping with the original character of the building, and most importantly, it’s easy to install. It was absolutely perfect.
We got in touch with IKO, and incredibly, they agreed to sponsor our project! Jameswood’s restoration would truly be at a standstill if it wasn’t for this company’s support. We can not thank them enough for their help.
I’ve posted a link to IKOslate for those of you who are interested in the product. And *spoiler* I can genuinely and whole-heartedly say I could not be happier with how beautiful these slates look opn our roof.
There's also a great video that we and the IKO team put together about our roof!
So, we had a brilliant solution for our roof covering. But first we had to focus on fixing the roof structure. Thankfully, Cal and his father are both carpenters. We convinced Cal’s dad to come up for a …relaxing Scottish retreat…? …and the two of them started splicing new timbers into the roof where rafters were too rotten or warped.
Cal and his father splicing new timbers in where roof rafters were rotten and warped.
As the weather warmed up, we posted our project on workaway – a website that connects travellers with hosts who are working on projects of all kinds. Similar to “woofing”, we would provide accommodation and food to travellers, and show them around the incredible Argyll coast (actually.. our good friends David and Tony usually showed everyone around while we worked on the house!) In return, our guests would help us out with restoring Jameswood!
With about ten people staying in the backyard to help us with the roof and enjoy the Scottish scenery, Jameswood was starting to look more like a hippy commune than a building site. We had tents scattered around the yard, and I loved our days of community living. We had family-style meals, and wound down our nights around a bonfire in the back yard. Everyone took turns cooking and washing-up, and with a lightened domestic work-load, we could properly focus our attention on the house.
A glimpse into life at Jameswood's "hippie commune"
Once Cal and his dad had fixed the rafters in the front face of the roof, it was all hands on deck! We boarded out the roof in OSB sheets, fixed down a breathable membrane that would add extra protection to the roof and installed kilometres of batten for the slates to be fixed to! I had a go at carpentry, building the outriggers to extend over the gable ends, and rebuilding some of the dormer windows.
Weeks went by as we prepared the roof for slating, and as unseasonably rainy weather kept coming, we became desperate for a dry space to store our tools. Once the front half of the roof was structurally sound, boarded and battened, we decided to start slating, and do the back half of the roof afterwards.
One of the trickiest parts of roofing is setting out. If you don’t get the spacing and overlap of your tiles right, your roof could leak, your slates could uplift in wind and you could be left with an awkward line of slates at the top of the roof that are more wide or narrow than the rest! Luckily, IKOslate has handy markings that help you get the right overlap, and the slightly curved shape keeps the slates tight against each other so they can’t get pulled up by wind. I watched countless Youtube videos to figure out how to space the slates evenly, and Cal and I measured everything out over and over to make sure we had gotten it right.
And then, when there was no more planning and double checking we could possibly do, we nervously got to slating.
We made an assembly line with our guests: Two workawayers cutting slates, two sending them up to Cal and I and receiving measurements for the next cut. We hadn’t wanted guests to do the slating for fear of mucking up our roof… but we soon realised just how easy the process was! After a few hours of roofing ourselves, we decided the IKOslate was foolproof, and rearranged our process.
We had as many volunteers up on the roof as possible. Usually about four of us. The slates were so easy to cut we decided to bring the jigsaws up to roof level and cut them as we needed them. With no more separate cutters and messengers, we just had two people passing up tiles at a constant rate and the slates started flying onto the roof! In less than a week, we had the front half of the roof complete!
We were over the moon, and with our excitement renewed, we got on with the laborious task of fixing, boarding and battening the back half of the roof.
At this time, I was taking on shifts at the local pub in the evenings, and one night, a local construction worker pointed out a problem with our roofing process. We had completely finished the front half of the roof and were about to open up the back half of the roof to the wind. What we had unknowingly managed to do is create a gigantic wind-sail on top of our house! He warned that he had seen whole roofs uplift in strong winds due to this mistake.
With this worry in the back of our minds, work suddenly picked up, and we had the back half of the roof prepared in half the time it took us to complete the front! Still, I spent that fortnight sleep deprived. Every gust of wind woke me up, and I sleeplessly spent my nights checking the window to see if our roof was still firmly attached to our building.
Having finished the front face of the roof, and opened up the back, we had unknowingly made the structure a giant sail! Good thing the rafters had been carefully fixed down!
As September came, we said goodbye to our workawayers, and got to slating the back half of our roof by ourselves. Cal and I were so motivated to push through and finish slating. We spent every hour of sunlight on top of the building, and incredibly, had the roof finished less than a week after we started slating.
Just the two of us. Slating our roof together!
On the last day of slating, I stayed up on the roof nearly the whole day. Getting tea and sandwiches brought to me. When the last slate was fixed, I clambered down to see the final results and I truly couldn’t have been happier. Our roof is absolutely beautiful, and I am completely over the moon about it.
I spent days doing double takes whenever I looked at the house. Still, 6 months later, I sometimes catch myself staring at our roof with pride. We did that! And it looks so good! We celebrated with a bottle a bubbly shared between friends, and a week-long rest!
Our beautiful new roof!!!
Reroofing Jameswood was an absolute game changer. We finally had a dry space to work, and store materials and tools. Gone are the days of being sternly told-off by Cal for leaving his favourite saw untarped. Jameswood’s walls could finally start to dry, and slowly, as they released water and brightened in colour from the top-down, the damp smell that hung in the air lifted.
We can not thank IKO enough for sponsoring the reroofing of Jameswood. When we had set out on the mission to reroof our house, we had expected it would drain our funds and leave our project at a stand-still. Because of IKO’s support, we have been able to carry on restoring Jameswood (in a dry space!!)
With this buildings’ biggest problems now behind us, accidentally buying Jameswood is starting to look much less like a giant f***-up, and much more like a blessing in disguise.
Thank you for joining us on our journey,
Sincerely, Claire (and Cal!)
A foreword: we've tried our best to gather some information on the history of Jameswood. We are not, however, historians, nor did we consult one in making this blog post. As I am not referencing texts, please just take this as an interpretation of the stories we've heard since moving to the area.
Jameswood itself does not have a tremendously interesting history. However, Sandbank, the village located alongside Dunoon, where the building is located, has a rich and prolific history. One which makes Jameswood and the rest of the community a special place to live and explore.
Where to begin?
Why don't you knock it down and start over?
This is a question Cal and I get A LOT.
To be honest, it's not a bad question. Even our structural engineer, who has been a fantastic help on the project, recommended we knock Jameswood down - THREE TIMES, in the same report! The Argyll and Bute council have taken the same stance on the place, recommending we demolish in nearly every meeting we have had with them face to face.
So why didn't we?
We just wanted to start off this post by saying THANK YOU to everyone who has donated to our GoFundMe page! You've helped us get a little bit closer to making our dream of restoring Jameswood a reality!
As we said before, we will be including the names of everyone who has donated to the project somewhere in our house!
If you are interested in supporting the Jameswood Restoration, you can visit
We are blown away by the incredibly kind messages of support we receive from all over the world. Thank you SO much.
To catch up on the progress we had made before May, you can check out progress report #1 and #2 here!
PROGRESS REPORT #3: May - June, 2019
Last time I posted, we had just gotten the hang of putting up scaffolding, and were about to start to making our way around the building with it.
But first, we had to move the caravan. It was at the front of the house, which wasn't ideal for traffic noise, privacy and safety (it was sitting in front of our partially collapsed wall!), but it would also get in the way of the scaffolding braces.
Our neighbour has a 4 by 4 pickup truck, and he kindly offered to lend a hand. He moved the caravan from our original driveway, around to the new driveway we had recently made for receiving scaffolding.
We've had a lot of questions from subscribers and followers about how people can support the project.
For those of you who would like to, we've set up a gofundme page, so that you can assist us in seeing through our dream of restoring Jameswood!
Our goal is to carry out the project to a high standard and to do so in an environmentally friendly way - so that Jameswood can last another 130 years and have a low impact on our planet while being here! We hope this page can help us achieve this goal.
If you do wish to donate, PLEASE leave your name, or your family's name, so that we can include it somewhere in the house when the project is completed!
THANK YOU again, to EVERYONE who has shown us support, as we restore Jameswood Villa! We can not explain to you how much it means to us to have you cheering us on!